The following is adapted from “How to use problem-solving simulations to improve knowledge, skills, and teamwork,” by J. Szumal, 2000, in M. Silberman and P. Philips (Eds.), The 2000 Team and Organization Development Sourcebook (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill). Adapted with permission.
One of the great advantages of group problem-solving simulations is that they make the abstract concept of synergy more concrete and tangible by enabling participants to quantify and compare individual versus group performance. In turn, examining the patterns that emerge in simulation performance scores across teams can be an important step in helping participants to understand that synergy is not easily achieved.
The bar chart shown below displays the patterns in performance observed with 388 groups that completed one of six different problem-solving simulations.
With all six simulations, almost all of the groups outperformed their average individual member. Across all six of the simulations, at least some of the groups outperformed their best member and achieved synergy. However, with five of the six simulations, fewer than half of the groups were able to outperform their best member and achieve synergy. (With the sixth simulation, exactly half of the groups outperformed their best member and achieved synergy.)
Similarly, if you were to ask participants how many groups in their organizations outperform their average individual member, they’d probably say “over half.” If you asked them how many groups in their organization outperform their best member, (and achieve synergy), they’d probably say “less than half.” The simulation scores illustrate that, just as in most organizations, groups do not automatically achieve synergy. Yet synergy is what most managers expect when they ask people to work as a group or team. Regardless of the type of problem or the setting, the achievement of synergy depends on the quality of the interactions between group members. This is why using simulations such as the Desert Survival Situation to learn, analyze, and practice the mechanics of group problem solving can be such a valuable approach to developing more effective groups and teams within organizations.
More research findings are available in the Desert Survival Situation™ Leader’s Guide.
An outstanding way to prove the point that teams outperform individuals is to engage people in an exercise like Desert Survival… The teams almost always outperform the individuals and, if they do not, the reason can usually be traced to poor functioning of the team.
Listening costs money because it is time consuming. However, in the end it saves money because mistakes are corrected, potential problems are avoided, and more creative and cost-effective solutions are generated. …the Desert Survival Situation, demonstrated that teams with good listening skills consistently outperformed teams where the members did not listen to each other.
Glenn M. Parker, 25 Instruments for Team Development
Finally, the best thinking very often results from a team effort. With few exceptions, repeated research has established that groups are usually better than individuals at solving problems where no one has deep or relevant experience…. A forceful example is an exercise called the Desert Survival Situation.
A technique used widely in helping groups to understand the value added from team performance is a classroom exercise designed to demonstrate synergy…. The parallel between lessons learned from this exercise and those learned in many aircraft accidents is more than casual.
I had been skeptical about the exercise, but it worked…. It turned out to be a particularly appropriate exercise for the first day, as it came so close to some of our real survival emotions.
In the afternoon, we divided into our old study groups and had to face the highlight of our trip to Half Moon Bay, a group test: The Desert Survival scenario.
Students discover through this exercise that applying the interaction method, the problem-solving process, and the various tools presents much more of a challenge than they had expected. Their realization stimulates them to work on mastering this material during the succeeding projects.
I met recently with the executive director of a U.S. association that works with CEOs of Chinese companies as they seek to become listed on U.S. stock exchanges. We discussed my law practice and my time in China teaching law at Tsinghua University, but he was most interested in my experience with Desert Survival, the classic teambuilding exercise. He said that a real need for this type of skill existed within Chinese companies.
By comparing individual strategies with team consensus, the exercise graphically demonstrated the value of cooperative collaboration.
Human Synergistics International thanks trainers, practitioners, consultants, and educators across the globe for making our team-building simulations the most widely used and acclaimed in the world.
When Human Synergistics first introduced the Desert Survival Situation™, our clients could not get enough of this innovative team activity based on the concept of synergy—that is, people working together can achieve better results than they can individually. The Desert Survival Situation has become one of the most widely-used team-building activities in the world and has served as the model for other numerous other exercises used for training and development internationally.
Human Synergistics’ team-building simulations provide a unique opportunity to quickly and objectively measure whether your teams are achieving synergy. They are designed for team building, developing more constructive group processes, and demonstrating the impact of communication and collaboration on solution effectiveness. HSI offers a wide variety of team-building simulations in four series.